Proust said (something along the lines of) “the meaning of life is to make art.” I agree wholeheartedly, but I think that many people would initially shy away from that concept, assuming they are not inherently “artistic” by nature and therefore, art cannot be the meaning of their life. Sadly, this is where our definitions and perspectives may differ. I believe the ultimate fruits of one’s labor is, by definition, art, and furthermore, our recognition of “good work” by others is our appreciation of their artistic expression. Or put another way, anything that is produced as a result of hard work should be considered art.
As an artist, art history student, and author, I don’t hesitate to say that I knowingly “make art” every single day, but in my day-to-day activities, the art I produce may be harder to spot than an oil painting or some ink on a paper sketch pad. It’s much, much more complicated than that.
My art is sliding out of bed without completely waking her up. My art is pouring myself an espresso, without losing a drop of coffee. My art is starting every sentence with a capital letter and finishing every sentence with the proper punctuation. Correct spelling, too. My art is arriving on time. My art is being reliable. My art is my positive attitude, my work ethic, and my friendships. My art is preparing a delicious meal (okay, this one I’m still working on).
My earliest applicable memory to “making art” in this way came very early on, I must have been six or seven years old. A number of my friends at school were attending something called “junior cotillion” where they were learning proper etiquette, manners, and how to lay out a place setting. I didn’t attend the cotillion, but it was equally important that I learned those concepts, so my parents taught me. When it came to setting a table, I was instantly hooked!
We’ve all sat down to a dinner on a baron table and it didn’t really matter that much. We have our dinner on our plates, a handful of silverware and a paper towel. It’s all good. But taking a seat at a table that is organized, with placemats and folded cloth napkins, that elevates the entire meal. Setting is essential. F-o-r-k, l-e-f-t. K-n-i-f-e, r-i-g-h-t. The knife defends the plate from the spoons and your bread is on the right. The silverware is intended to disappear as the meal progresses, working from the outside in. My artistic perspective turned setting an empty table, an often undesirable chore, into painting on a blank canvas. I appreciated the opportunity and my family appreciated my effort.
Later on, in school and my early professional career, I applied that same artistic perspective to my paperwork, specifically writing papers, reports, and generating spreadsheets. It was my unabashed desire to turn in work that was both visually compelling as well as intellectually stimulating (and correct), so I spent hours learning the intricacies of Microsoft Excel and Word in order to generate the best “art” I could. A well presented document is more effective, and appreciated more, than a simple data dump.
I recently started a new job at Bee Thinking, a Portland company that produces Cedar bee hives for home beekeeping. Saving bees! I am in the process of transitioning over to Customer Service, but in the meantime, I am working in the warehouse, collecting and assembling hives to ship all over the world.
This is my first experience in a warehouse, and to much surprise, I’m actually really enjoying it. Sure, the fifteen or so warehouse employees are essentially human cogs churning out a uniform boxed product, but to those of us on in the inside, it’s much more than that. We’re a bunch of colorful gears! Each worker is unique, bringing their own perspective, approach, style, and personality to the line, generating a product ideally devoid of our individual influence. At first glance, uniformity may feel like the antithesis of “artistic expression,” but then again, there’s nothing more artistic than a perfectly drawn circle. (Go ahead, try!)
Simply put, don’t be afraid of hard work. If you work hard and take pride in what you are doing, how can you not say that is art? If you take pride in everything you do, and want to generate the “best” work you can, whatever work may be, who is to say that is not artistic expression? At it’s core, there may be essentially no difference between a work review and an art critique. You are called on to explain, defend, and elaborate on your work, pinpointing problems or issues, and verbalizing your intentions. Stand proudly behind your art.
If you treat every challenge as an opportunity to express yourself, you are shifting your mindset to one of creative freedom, rather than responsibility. So add some color! Play with the margins! Push your process farther than you have before!
When you are finally able to view your daily tasks, responsibilities, and actions not as hinderances, but as opportunities to share your own, unique artistic expression, you will see the world as a much more beautiful place. A world of artistic expression.
Work Hard. Make Art. Change the World.